Bass . Think of words like Monolithic.Megalithic.Prehistoric. Primitive.Mystic. Then try to place it in the mix.
When I first started playing music, in the late seventies, everybody seemed to covet Rickenbacker basses. I don’t know why. They had a very hollow type of a sound. Trebly and lots of string in it. Was it the after effects of an influence by Chris Squire from Yes? Bruce Foxton from the Jam played one. Tracey Pew played one in the Boys Next Door.
Otherwise , in the post punk scene the bass guitar was present only occasionally as a deep , driving distorted engine of funk. Jah Wobble in PIL had a great tone and image and their sound, along with the Pop Group ( from Bristol) really brought your attention to that dub influenced spectrum of the sound. The music was open and full of space. Time and space is what the bass players control.
Youth, in Killing Joke had the same sort of goofy, primal aesthetic happening. A big sound with lots of smoke in the players hair. Jean Jacques Burnel in the Stranglers had already brought a lot of focus to the bass with his sound and his lines. He stood right at the front of the stage too, not hiding his lights back with the drums. The Stranglers had that spooky organ with four to the floor drums and spare, fender guitar touches not unlike the MGs. Plenty of room for the bass to step up and play a central role. Peter Hook in Joy Division really anchored that band with his earthy, distorted lines. Crude slabs of sound, pulverising beats.
Hook also had that melodic side which ran through a lot of post punk music and which still pops up as a kind of indie signifying mode. The bass line plays a third note and brings in a melody underneath a scratchy, thin guitar line. The Go Betweens early singes had this down perfectly. Orange Juice with “simply thrilled honey”. Sonic Youth used it a lot.
The bass player in our first band, the Moodists was Chris Walsh. he grew up running around with Tracey Pew out in that hotbed of Melbourne punk, Glen Waverley. Chris played a fretless bass through a Peavey amp with metal pick. His sound was the centre of our band. All the songs swung around the bass and the vocals. the guitars were off to the sides , wigging out.
He is a great player. We got back together fro some reunion shows. No one asked us or was really waiting for us. It was more of a case of some unfinished business. We were soundchecking at the gig. Chris and our guitarist Steve had not done a real lot of playing recently. Their sounds were perfectly preserved from the time our band was playing. Back in the old days. The young front of house guy was from the early 2000s new rock revival scene. He told our guitarist to “dial some mids in”. The guitar was plugged into a Fender twin and every dial was on 10. I told the kid to back off because we weren’t really looking for an Aerosmith type of sound. Steve and Chris were rocking sounds you couldn’t dial up from a pod or a digital amp.
After Chris left the Moodists we played with David McClymont , who had been in the aforementioned Orange Juice. He had had an experience in music from total indie label POSTCARD to pop stardom and recording in the Bahamas and back again. He was very intuitive about music. I mean he didn’t know what each note was called. he had great groove though and we learned a lot from him about arrangements and dynamics.
In the Coral Snakes we had Gordy Blair on the bass. He was a very melodic player. His first instrument was the sax. He was from Belfast , and then London but also from that post punk scene which was like a kind of a school. A lot of shared attitudes.
Adele Pickvance came to us via Robert Forsters band. She later went back to play with the Go Betweens MK111. She had learned to play the bass as a kid, in Queensland clubs with her father. He played the keys and guitar and got more dosh if it was a duo! She stood there for a while and eventually started to play. I mean over a long period. She was never scared of being on stage or in different situations. She came into music by a really natural way, not from a music school or a careers officers suggestion. Such a melodic sense. She could swing and groove too. Outstanding player!
After she left we had the luck to play with Stu Thomas. He started out on the trumpet. He plays a Fender bass , when we are rocking and then when we play a more minimalist setup, he drags out his 6 string Burns baritone which he plays as a bass. It gets that great “plunky” sound you hear on 60s soundtracks. We toured for a year with that sound. It was up against Clare on the vibes and me on acoustic 12 string. A great trio sound. Room for the lyrics to come out.
Bass players listen to the music and songs from a different perspective. I often think of dark, earthy types standing still at the back, while the lead singer and guitarist throw all kinds of mad shapes. John Entwistle from the Who, Bill Wyman grimacing a s well, John Paul Jones escaping all the cameras completely.
There were those others like Chas Chandler from the Animals and Glenn Wheatley from the Masters Apprentices who were actually standing up the back, thinking about the number of payers and how the business could be tightened up.
There have been bands like the 70s prog blues band “Back Door” which was just bass , sax and drums . I once saw a German band with SIX bass players and a poor girl on drums. God it was horrible! I hope she wasn’t a hostage.
Then there are the jazz and funk masters like Bootsy Collins and Larry Graham. Forces of nature. That bit in Sly Stones “Dance to the Music “ where the fuzz bass comes in! OOOOH thats good! Charles Mingus, Barry Adamson, that green devil with the big thumb in the Mighty Boosh....
Recent developments have seen bands like the Dirty three, the White Stripes and the Black keys do without a bass. I mean , the Cramps did it, although Bryan Gregory had an amazing bottom end of low fuzz on his guitar. And in the Doors, its still a baffling mystery how Ray Manzarek did what he did to make the bass seem to happen as well as the right hand handfulls on the organ. (I think they had an actual bass player sometime in the studio).
All these bass less acts know what they’re missing eventually. A joke is a joke , really! You got to have that low end drive in the end.
I did see a great film on the county singer Buck Owens though. He was famous for getting this sound , the “Bakersfield sound”. An area then on the outskirts of LA. He explained that he asked the engineer “how much does that goddam bass take up in the sound?” “About 80%” said the engineer. “Well get rid of it then!” said Buck and thats how he got his sound. He wanted more room for the guitars and the voice. He must have stuck with it for a while though I bet he moved some back in after a while, after he got the hang of that Bakersfield sound.
All the bass players I’ve played with have had amazing skills and chops. I learned so much from all of them.
Stu Thomas, who I play with now, has his own band, THE STU THOMAS PARADOX. Its the band where he drops all the science hes picked up into. they have a great album out called “ESCAPE FROM ALGEBRA”
I love to play the bass too. On records and when I get to play with friends like Harry Howard. Last show I did with him , I borrowed the bass amp of the other act, Ron Penos RSVP. It was a sansamp into a Galleon Kruger head into a 4 by 10 bass cab. Then the other bass player , from Black Cab, brought his cabinet of the same size up and I had a massive tower to plug into. I've always complained about bass players amps, usually when helping them lift the things. Now I understand. You NEED that power under you to really get the oomph required for the true bottom end!
Had such a great time. Like driving a steam train. All that power at your touch. Dampening it and pumping it. Riding it! Not having to smile. Brooding up the back. Thinking about the dosh. It was , no I was monolithic. Megalithic. Primitive. Godlike. I had the total package.
- dave graney
- WORKSHY - 2017 memoir out on Affirm Press. Let's get Tight - 2017 CD with Clare Moore. Moodists - Coral Snakes - mistLY. I don’t know what I am and don’t want to know any more than I already know. I aspire, in my music , to 40s B Movie (voice and presence) and wish I could play guitar like Charlie Christian or Grant Green -but not in this lifetime, I know.
2014 solo album from Dave Graney. *****"If I've learnt anything in my years of writing about music it's that if you are going to do anything of worth in this tough game, you better have your own thing. Today's generic is easily replaced by tomorrow's. And yet you need to be flexible, to follow wherever the songs demand. In the case of this, only the second credited as a solo album among 30 or so Graney releases, it's a curious yet welcoming lane he walks you down, with acoustic guitars, not much percussion, vibes, smooth sounds. At the end of it you feel like you've awoken from a strange yet pleasant summer's dream. As shot by Luis Bunuel. It ranges from off-kilter reveries (A Woman Skinnies Up a Man, The Old Docklands Wheel) through to the softly seductive (How Can You Get Out of London) and the downright arch (Look Into My Shades, Everything Is Great In The Beginning.) This is music that is neither folk, nor blues, nor country, but it's all Graney, somewhere out to the left field beyond Lee Hazlewood's raised eyebrow. It's astringent on the tongue but sweetens in the telling." Noel Mengel Brisbane Courier Mail
you've been in my mind
June 2012 super high energy pop rock album - blazing electric 12 strings - total 70s rock drive. Greatest yet! available via paypal - $20 pp
SUPERMODIFIED - August 2010 remixed/re-sung/re-strung//remastered/replayed comp via PAYPAL
also available as a digital album
Knock yourself (2009)-first ever dg solo set-filthy electro r&b-available via Paypal- $20
available as a digital album too
We Wuz Curious (2008)-blazing R&B jazz pop album available via paypal-$20
UNAVAILABLE-COMPLETELY SOLD OUT!!!
AVAILABLE AS A DIGITAL album
Hashish and Liquor (2005 double disc by Dave Graney and Clare Moore) available via Paypal $25
UNAVAILABLE-COMPLETELY SOLD OUT!!!
Single album HASHISH available as a digital release